by Lydia Linton Pontius (Dec. 2014)
Sac-Be once had a presence in Puerto Morelos but it has been a while since we visited this town, and we knew that we had a lot of catching up to do. With the help of Cat Brown and Gerry Phelps during this trip in our brief time, we certainly got a sense of how much it has changed and how much more we need to learn.
First of all, when we last visited Puerto Morelos it was considered a "small fishing village." Now with its Protected Marine Park, authentic families who have lived here for generations, and its strong Mexican, Maya, and expat community, it is a vital seaside village! And just 20 minutes south of Cancún, this little piece of paradise has managed to band together to grow and prosper in a sustainable way!
Spending time with Cat Brown, who moved from Australia via NYC, was eye opening. This woman has the touch of gold; she saw something in Puerto Morelos which spoke to her in such a way that she left everything behind and opened a dive shop. The dive shop was progressive for its time and she shared her knowledge; instead of competing with other dive shops, she encouraged them to improve the way they did things. Eventually she started buying land and building homes. With her love for great cuisine, she saw that what was missing was a cooking school. While others thought she was crazy, she proved that there was a need and The Little Mexican Cooking School, now at its second location, is going strong. She understood that food was a huge part of any culture.
One of the things that sets Puerto Morelos apart, Cat explained, is that the locals have lived there for many generations. No one was displaced or moved for their prime land and, unlike many places up and down the coast, PM isn’t a new town that grew up as a result of a large All-Inclusive Resort. The other thing that sets Puerto Morelos apart is the sense of community and its ability to fight to protect what it knows is its Golden Egg. The community worked first to establish the reef off shore as a National Marine Park. The next step will be to become a new municipality reaching from Moon Palace to Leona Vicario.
The community also understands that the only way to break the poverty cycle is through education and, from that, a charitable organization for the community sprang up: El Mundo Para Puerto Morelos. Both a Mexican and U.S. nonprofit, their focus is to enrich the lives of everyone in the community through maintenance and improvement in the areas of health, education and welfare.
Puerto Morelos is not just the few roads that run parallel to the beach and the square. It is a growing, thriving village with a large pueblo on the other side of the highway. It also is expanding out the Ruta de los Cenotes. Puerto Morelos is now home to large and small resorts, lots of stores and restaurants, cenote eco-parks, and even a Club de Polo El Rey!
To learn more about what was on the Ruta de los Cenotes (Cenotes Route), Gerry Phelps graciously agreed to meet me and take me on a short tour to touch just the tip of the iceberg. Gerry is a transplant from Montreal, Canada, who has a lovely home in the jungle and in his spare time loves to cook and bake. If you are lucky enough to time it just right, you will have the opportunity to try his delicacies at the local farmer's market.
Our first stop of the day was at Cenote 7 Bocas, a rustic place off the main road and down the dirt road on the north side of the Ruta de los Cenotes. What hit me over and over while I was in Puerto Morelos, was how close it was to Cancún's Hotel Zone, but how it was a world apart! There is NOTHING glitzy or prefab about Cenotes 7 Bocas; it is Nature at its most pristine. Here you will more likely hear people speaking Mayan, with Spanish as their second language—which for those of us who share that, we appreciate the slower cadence which makes it much easier to follow along. A family member convinced them to search their property and clear it so they could open it up to tourists and adventure-seekers. Cenotes 7 Bocas is a series of underground caves and rivers with seven openings. We arrived and Rosa gave us a tour which included a temazcal and palapa area for dining.
We had a great time hearing her stories and learning about how they manage the alux (small spirit)! As fascinated as I am with the alux, I have been warned that you don't want them and if you have them, you want them to be happy. They also explained how they set fires with copal to remove snakes from the caves during the day. She also taught us a lot about the jungle and what it was like to live there and the plants that grow there.
From Cenotes 7 Bocas we had a quick break and a coffee, and a chance to sample Gerry’s banana bread before heading to Boca del Puma. Boca del Puma is owned by the family member who talked Rosa's family into opening Cenote 7 Bocas. It is owned and operated by Jesus and his wife, Malonie. They are working hard to make this a true eco-park and have high hopes for expanding its visitors without compromising its integrity. The work here is exquisite and you can see the respect they have for the land and its history.
Jesus and Malonie may be two of the most fascinating people you will ever have the pleasure of meeting. Their entire staff was so professional and pleasant, but we were thrilled that we had the opportunity to tour the property and hear Jesus' stories.
Malonie is a singer from Canada who came on a vacation 19 years ago and fell in love with the jungle … end of story! She works during the evenings singing and during the day she helps with social media for the business. Jesus was born and raised in the jungle here. He explained how that during the revolution those who wanted change were often shipped off to the Yucatán if they were not happy with the government. His father's family made a life in the jungle living on the land. Life was good. But as times changed so did the need to look for new ways to exist and survive. Jesus has a vision for the land that he loves that will protect and use it not only for entertainment but also for education.
The paths are all hand cut. He explored every inch of the property and kept some remnants of a time that no longer exists, such as a small piece of railway and the carriage that was used. He has used photos of his family to show what life was like. Jesus did an amazing job of creating a gorgeous walkway and opening to border a cenote with stones collected on his property. The nice thing about this park is that you can explore it on land, underground, and above the tree tops with the system of caves, rivers, paths and zip lines.
For those of you staying in Cancún, Puerto Morelos, Playa or anywhere, we highly recommend these amazing spots off the beaten path! You won't be disappointed.
Our day ended way too quickly and I will be back to visit new friends and explore new places on the Ruta de los Cenotes. But it was time to head back to the beach, Casa Caribe, and grab a quiet dinner. This was Jamie's last night and we wanted one more look at the white beaches of Puerto Morelos.